This is a list of the movies I saw released theatrically in 2011.
1. Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin (9/10)
This is a thriller that completely subverts its genre; as such it is one of the most effective of this style of man-chase-woman thrillers. It’s a genre that’s been done to death, and even this version of it – the woman-escaping-from-a-cult version – has been done at least a few times as well.
The reason this film is so successful – aside from the great performances from its main actors – is that it convinces you it is not this type of man-chase-woman thriller for most of the movie. For most of the movie we, the audience, believe that this is a story of psychological recovery, despite the regular soundtrack cues that something else is going on. As the story reveals itself, we are constantly led to believe that this movies really is about the healing of a person and of a relationship between two sister, when its not at all.
The title character is also relatively unique in this genre for being a really believable victim, one who cannot even articulate what has happened to her. Few women in these types of movies have bee this complex. Usually the woman is much more of a cardboard cut-out, or otherwise emotionally healthy person who just happens to have dated a psycho.
Also, the ending uses one of my favourite devices.
1. Shame, directed by Steve McQueen (9/10)
Shame isn’t quite the mind-blower that Hunger was, though it is substantially easier to watch – a relative thing. Though I have many issues with the concept of “sex addiction,” Fassbinder and McQueen treat the character very much like an addict, and that is at first harder to understand but eventually much easier to understand than Fassbinder’s last role in a McQueen movie. (I could never starve myself, nor remain so silent.)
One of the things I love about McQueen is his usage of so many techniques. There are directors who love long takes and there are directors who love quick-cutting, but McQueen uses both – with a great emphasis on the form – as just one example of how he stands out. He has an astounding visual sense, which was also very noticeable in Hunger, and he also (mostly) has a great way with sound. He’s one of those guys whose films you see and you say to yourself: this guy can direct innately.
The one quibble I have with this film is the score – not the soundtrack on the whole – is often used too conventionally for such an interesting filmmaker. There are emotional cues we don’t need, that belong in a lesser film. But that is a minor quibble.
The ending is perfect.
3. Fatherland, directed by Nicolas Prividera (9/10)
Remember those TVO Canadian history docs where they had c-list Canadian actors dressed in costume and reading the letters of dead Canadians and Americans to recreate history? Well, that’s what Fatherland is, only it is much, much, much better. Beginning with the Argentinian national anthem over film-stock of protesters and rebels being beaten and killed, this film attacks what must be passing for established history in Argentina. It is mostly a series of readings from letters and books by famous Argentinians performed from atop or next to their graves in Buenos Aires’ beautiful necropolis. The concept would seem obvious if it had actually ever been done before: passages that horribly incriminate Argentina’s heroes – in their own words – in deeds of genocide are read next to and atop statues of themselves. It works wonderfully and is at times horribly ironic – and sometimes funny in a very dark way. The only issue with the film is it’s length: this is something that doesn’t move forward at all and so it should be shorter. Actually, one other issue: I don’t quite get the last shot, though it is beautiful.
4. Margin Call, directed by J.C. Chandor (9/10)
This is probably the best fictional film about the 2008 economic crisis [Note: until The Big Short] and probably the best film about finance I’ve seen since Glengarry Glen Ross.
5. Into the Abyss, directed by Wener Herzog (8/10)
Unlike most films about murder and capital punishment, Herzog’s latest doesn’t try to convince you the killers are innocent. He accepts at face values both the story of the police – which is supported by confessions and some pretty damning physical evidence – and the claims of both murderers that they are innocent. I think he does this because the point is that capital punishment is wrong regardless of what happened, and to that point, we can never know exactly what happened in any murder that isn’t caught on tape, even if there is a ton of evidence suggesting what happened. It’s an interesting approach that I must say threw me at first. As usual, Herzog has found fascinating human beings who cannot fit into the normal world – in this case because of bad childhoods, drugs, alcohol, etc. – and there are some real moments of emotional power, pathos and humour.
Herzog also lets the faith of all the different interviewees sit there as they all – well, most of them – try to excuse their actions / consequences in the name of destiny. My only real quibble is with the chapter headings – a real nitpick of mine this year it seems – as they kind of add a pseudo-philosophical pomposity to the film that isn’t necessary.
6. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, directed by Tomas Alfredson (8/10)
For a while I have wanted to watch first the original version of this and then the remake. However, I lost my American netflix awhile ago and haven’t yet got it back. And I stupidly gave in and watched the remake first.
7. Last Call at the Oasis, directed by Jessica Yu (8/10)
8. The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne (8/10)
I was definitely dubious about this latest Payne film, partly because of the casting and partly because of where Payne has headed lately, but I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, sometimes I forget that Clooney, in addition to being Clooney, is actually an incredible actor able to express complex feelings like few others. He is also willing to humanize himself within a role in a way few other stars of his stature are willing to. The rest of the actors are also solid and the film feels like a bit of a return to form for Payne, though it’s hardly as acerbic as his earliest work.
9. Hot Coffee, directed by Susan Saladoff (8/10)
Full disclosure: I was once a drinker of the “frivolous law suits” koolaid and, if I am not mistaken, I may have even mentioned in my first book that I thought judges should make decisions on “non economic” damages in civil suits.
10. Better This World, directed by Kelly Duane, Katie Galloway (8/10)
11. Big Boys Gone Bananas, directed by Fredrick Gertten (8/10)
12. Peace Out, directed by Charles Wilkinson (8/10)
My ex-girlfriend and I had a thing where we started labeling certain documentaries “We can’t have children films.”
The Island President was one, Last Call at the Oasis was another. Peace Out is another.
Though somewhat clunkily constructed, it is an alarming wake up call to what is going on in the Peace River region of BC and Alberta. (One of the movies’ flaws is that it doesn’t confine itself to the Peace River region throughout, but also discusses the related Athabasca River region.)
Perhaps the most shocking fact I was unaware of (and it’s hardly the least shocking fact in the doc) is that the various companies don’t have to pay a cent for the public water they are gobbling up at the rate of a major city (whereas you and I have to pay for our public water).
For me the quality of the interviewees and the sense of the film outweighs the technical issues and so I can’t help but say it is a good movie, in spite of some amateurishness in the editing and filming.
13. Bernie, directed by Richard Linklater (8/10)
14. The Hunter, directed by Daniel Nettheim (8/10)
This is the second year in a row I have seen a film called the Hunter and the second time I have rated such a film 8/10. I guess it’s a title that grabs me. They are very different films just so you know. Though this is a storyline that has been seen time and again it is done very well: the acting is great, the story keeps you guessing enough even though the theme is so familiar, there are multiple moments of genuine tension and the cinematography is spectacularly beautiful. The only objection I had to the film as a whole was the score, which I found heavy-handed and overdone. This is funny because during the Q and A a guy asked a question to the effect of “how did you get a such a great score?” Trust me, it sucked. It was pounding drums in the tense moments (never heard that before…) and soaring massed strings at emotionally poignant moments (again, that’s new…). The other quibble, which I am slowly getting over, is the ending. I don’t like it. But I’m asking myself the Ebert question, ‘how else could it have ended?’ and I am having a hard time coming up with one that is as apt. (There are other possibilities but they don’t work with the story, they would just satisfy my need for unnecessary ambiguity.) Which was the better Hunter? Probably this one. This one was at least more quickly paced as the other was (deliberately) slow.
15. La chispa de la vida aka As Luck Would Have It, directed by Alex de la Iglesia (8/10)
Just a note first: I tried to watch this on Netflix and the subtitles were 15-20 seconds off the lines, and it was so annoying. Fortunately, the library saved my life.
This is a devastating black comedy about media exploitation in our world. It manages to avoid a lot of the cliches that plague these types of films and though the actual accident at the centre of the film feels slightly contrived, you quickly forget about this.
This type of media satire has been done many times, but it’s often clunky or overly obvious. This film is aided by its unique twist, its combination of farce and satire and it’s committed, excellent performances.
It is not the best media satire I’ve seen as it isn’t willing to commit completely to its awful view of the world – in order for us to feel more pathos, I think, the film does present a couple redeemable characters – but it’s still pretty good, and sad.
16. Kumare, directed by Vikram Gandhi (8/10)
I share Gandhi’s skepticism of spiritual gurus but I suspect that I have never felt the need to do what he did because I already knew they were charlatans. (Even those who actually believe their own “lies” are charlatans at some level.)
I don’t think this film is in any way “immoral”; exposing the charlatanism of gurus is something that is moral, at some level. Lying to these people is something that has already been done to them, and people like them, ad nauseum. Gandhi’s intentions are different than all the other gurus who are actually taking people’s money and property, not to mention their lives. And he realizes that his prank is effecting people at a fundamental level, and so he uses his position – lie and all – to try to make amends. Some of these people might have otherwise found themselves in a cult. They all needed to realize that they control their own happiness. Better he showed them that than they join a cult.
17. Take Shelter, directed by Jeff Nichols (8/10)
This is basically the American 2010s version of the Last Wave, only with paranoid schizophrenia substituting for Aboriginal lore. And I think its nature as a re-imagining of that movie – deliberate or otherwise, they are so similar I think we can think of it that way – helps us deal with what we might see as a problem. Because this is either a fantastic examination of schizophrenia that falls apart disastrously at the end or it is about the onus of knowing the future, as with the Last Wave. And if we think about it in terms of the latter, the ending makes sense and is far more acceptable.
18. Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh (8/10)
I think I understand why this didn’t go over that well with audiences: it’s too clinical, too realistic.
The film does a pretty good job of depicting what likely would happen if we got something akin to the Spanish Flu, or if SARS hadn’t been so easily handled. Because of its scope, and because of its attempt at depicting the whole thing realistically, I think that it can certainly be accused of not being that relatable at the level of characters, but I didn’t find it so. I found the attempts at realism refreshing and engrossing. I’d rather watch a film that depicts what would likely happen during an epidemic than a film that gets all conspiratorial or that puts in all kinds of nonsensical action where it doesn’t belong.
19. X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn (8/10)
As a child, the X-Men were my favourite super heroes but for reasons I will no go into, I have not found the various X-Men films that I have seen particularly compelling. The first film was better than most of the other comic book movies of its era, but I did not enjoy the second or the third (though the third was better than Ratner’s usual output, I am guessing because the source material was better than his usual source material).
20. Albert Nobbs, directed by Rodrigo Garcia (7/10)
This is an interesting film centered on a bravura performance from Glenn Close. It’s not only that she plays a woman playing a man, but how she plays him. For most of the film Nobbs is all coiled up, as you might expect a woman playing a man to be. And you can feel her daily terror. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Close is so good that the film around her kind of pales. And this is a movie that gets more things right than it gets wrong, but I just feel like it’s a one man, excuse me, one woman, show.
21. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher (7/10)
22. A Better Life, directed by Chris Weitz (7/10)
This is an affecting movie that does a good job of avoiding cliches. Given the immigration status of the father, and the bad crowd the kid is falling in with, there’s a lot that could go wrong here. But the filmmakers wisely take the less predictable (probably more realistic) option of telling a simple story, instead of working up to some big Hollywood climax.
I have seen at least one fairly shitty Hollywood film about the illegal immigration situation in the States so it’s nice to see an effective family drama set within it instead. No beating you over the head with the Message here – though it’s obvious who they sympathize with instead it’s just the story of believable characters. (Science that kid is annoying, though.)
23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, directed by David Yates (7/10)
For one brief, incredible moment they had me: Read the review.
24. The Island President, directed by Jon Shenk (7/10)
This is an affecting movie about the potential crisis we as a world (and specifically, anyone living close to the ocean without a hill in the way) are likely facing in the next few decades.
25. Drive, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn (7/10)
Holy Micheal Mann, Batman.
Drive is an over-stylized crime thriller that feels like both an homage to what we might call the “California” crime movies of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and to any number of ’80s films, but particularly the work of Michael Mann (both his ’80s work and later) and his interest in contrasting the soundtrack with the scenes.
The movie gets off to a great start with an extraordinary heist but it soon becomes clear that style and mood are more important than plot, character motivation and internal coherence. For an example of the latter: the entire film is from Driver’s perspective until that perspective cannot adequately explain what is going on, so then we get an expository scene that tells us what is going on, featuring characters that we have never seen except in their relationship to Driver.
There are still numerous effective moments and I really, really loved the opening, but there is just too much style for style’s sake and it hurts what might have otherwise been a very tense and exciting film.
26. Beats, Rhymes and Life, directed by Michael Rapaport (7/10)
Full disclosure: I do not listen to Hip Hop. I have heard some here and there – at friend’s houses, on the radio, and at concerts, and now, for my podcast – but I really know nothing about it.
This is an interesting documentary about a hip hop group I know nothing about it. It’s a little odd that some of the interviewees aren’t great, given the huge amount of people they interviewed – as evidenced by the closing credits. But the movie presents the history while only hinting at the breakup, then it deals with the breakup and some semblance of a future. And it tells us why these guys were important, and for me that is important because I honestly didn’t know.
But the movie does need a little more about the actual music I think, and there are some odd choices. For example, Phife’s diabetes is treated as something really, really serious and unique – not that it isn’t serious, but it’s diabetes, millions of people live and deal with it – which feels like a bit of a weird angle.
Anyway, it’s worth watching even if you don’t know or like hip hop, as it’s educational and there’s a good human story.
27. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt (7/10)
This is the second attempt at “rebooting” the Planet of the Apes series and, I must assume, the more successful (since the Burton remake hasn’t led to other films).
28. Bully, directed by Lee Hirsch (7/10)
Very affecting. Read the review.
29. Barrymore, directed by Erik Canuel (7/10)
This is the film version of a 1996 one-man show of Christopher Plummer as John Barrymore rehearsing for a revival of Richard III. Unlike some play adaptations, this one makes little pretense of hiding that it was a one-man show. Though film tricks are used to add or slightly change things that must have been done differently on the stage, for the most part it is just a filmed play. And I must say I find that a little refreshing, given how so many adaptions of plays try to hide their staged nature.
This kind of thing rests on the performance of the lead – though there is, in this one, one other character – and Christopher Plummer is indeed excellent. I’m not sure the adaptation as a film is entirely successful – I’m not completely sure as to why they couldn’t have just filmed Christopher Plummer performing this in front of an audience – but it doesn’t matter, because Plummer does an excellent job.
30. Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen (7/10)
This is complete nostalgia and it shouldn’t work. But Allen has a way with dialogue and plot – in some of his movies anyway – that somehow sells nostalgic schlock. I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy this. I think the whole thing is pretty silly and childish but he won me over. I’m not quite sure how (okay, the cast helps) but he did it.
31. Bobby Fischer Against the World, directed by Liz Garbus (7/10)
This is an interesting and affect documentary. My only quibble is that it is a little too episodic. I don’t really understand the need to turn someone’s life into “chapters.” Lives aren’t narratives and I think you can tell the story of someone’s life without relying on literary device like that.
32. A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg (7/10)
This is a fictional version of the conflict between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung which caused a major fracturing in psychoanalysis, leading to the birth of a second school of thought.
I think the major problem with this movie is that the filmmakers were not sure what story they were telling:
- the story of Freud and Jung,
- the story of Jung and his patient,
- or the story of the birth of psychoanalysis.
All three things appear at times but not enough of each, as someone who doesn’t know enough about this I felt a little at a loss at times.
That being said, I can’t say I disliked the film despite this rather major problem: Fassbinder is excellent, Mortensen is rather unrecognizeable (a good thing) and though Knightly is perhaps a bit over the top she is believable.
Moreover I find that I want to know more about Knightly’s character in particular – and I want to re-read some Freud and finally get around to Jung, though I bet I disagree with him.
So as docudrama it somehow works, despite the lack of direction.
33. Crazy Horse, directed by Frederick Wiseman (7/10)
I knew nothing about this place going in, so I was a little bit surprised by the content.
The problem with fly on the wall documentaries is they cannot usually stand long running times and the biggest knock against this film is that it is far too long for its subject matter. Without giving us much in the way of characters – though far more than in the other Wiseman film I’ve seen – it is tough to sustain interest through over two hours of footage just focusing on a high end nude dancing establishment – yes, I just said that. Fortunately, he shoots people interviewing some of the people and he shoots production meetings, so we do get to know some of the major players at least a little. This results in most of the film’s best moments. It is certainly an interesting film – I now never need to go to The Crazy Horse – and I discovered at least one subject for a future documentary all his own, but this is way, way too long.
PS: This film may contain the single greatest cover of a Britney Spears song ever, if it is even possible to have something like a “single greatest cover of a Britney Spears song ever.”
34. Comic-Con Episode IV: a Fan’s Hope, directed by Morgan Spurlock (7/10)
A very enjoyable documentary even for someone like me who doesn’t care at all about collecting comics or toys, or ever becoming any kind of comic artist. It’s a little contrived sure, but it’s constructed well enough that you forget about that part and enjoy the whole experience. Now I don’t have to attend something like this.
35. The Last Gladiators, directed by Alex Gibney (7/10)
A pretty clunky style and a complete lack of big-picture-focus is saved by Chris Nilan. Now I didn’t pay attention to hockey in his prime. And I only cared about the Leafs in the early ’90s, so I had no idea who he was. But he is a hell of a documentary subject (as the producers stressed in the Q and A). I may disagree with much of what he says about hockey, but he is a great interview; unflinchingly honest, which is rare. He is the centre of the film – they decided they should do that in the editing room it seems – and it’s the way it should be. Unfortunately the film is marred by two big issues.
The first is stylistic: it is unbelievably episodic, especially for a film that is only about 1 hr 40. There are numerous chapters (15? more?). I have no idea why. All it adds it run-time. Nothing else. Some of these chapters are five minutes long. I have no idea why they are there. It’s a bizarre decision, unless without them the film is so short that it is not a feature (I highly doubt that).
The second problem is that the filmmakers are either fans of hockey fighting or got to know the enforcers so much that they felt they couldn’t in any way commit to some kind of condemnation of this. I have a huge problem with this, especially given what we are learning about the relationship between concussions, drugs and suicide / accidental death. Now Chris Nilan, Terry O’Reilly, Tony Twist etc. can argue until they are blue in the fact that they never sustained concussions but the fact is that concussions were rarely diagnosed (if ever) when they played. The head trauma, in addition to the other physical trauma, and the drastic career change in the ’30s must have a huge impact on most goons, whether they could play a little or barely skate.
The filmmakers don’t really take a position on this (well they do, seeing it as entertainment), and as a result I am hugely disappointed. Those two criticisms aside, this is worth watching especially for Nilan.
36. The Man Nobody Knew, directed by Carl Colby (7/10)
What is a potentially very interesting subject it hurt a little bit by the personal nature of the film.
It isn’t organized all that well, and it often too much background knowledge (for example: what is the relationship of the OSS to the CIA?) is assumed and therefore left out. So people who don’t know who William Colby was don’t actually get enough of a picture at times.
And then there is the problem that too much of the film is focused on the familial relationships (and, as I already said, it isn’t integrated with the more interesting stuff effectively: if this were told like a mystery, it might have worked better) and especially the interviews with the very naive Mrs. Colby.
That being said, there is still a lot of interesting information and perspectives here, and it is absolutely fascinating to see how some of the last decade’s fuck-ups happened to be around for some ’70s fuck-ups too: US federal politics is incestuous.
37. Attack the Block, directed by Joe Cornish (7/10)
This is an entertaining spin on the alien invasion movie with a local focus. It worries more about the characters – and the authenticity of the location – than it does about the aliens, which is of course the right way to do it.
I agree it has been over-hyped; don’t really know why. But as long as your only looking to be entertained, this is a lot of fun and a reasonably clever spin on the formula.
38. Drive Angry, directed by Patrick Lussier (7/10)
An utterly ridiculous movie in all the best ways.
39. Horrible Bosses, directed by Seth Gordon (7*/10)
I liked this movie more than a lot of people, I think. It made me laugh all the way through, which is fairly rare for such a mainstream comedy. I haven’t seen it again to see if I was just in the right mood but I definitely enjoyed myself. And unlike the movies that come after it on this list, I wasn’t constantly nitpicking about things that were going on.
40. Squat, le ville est a nous!, directed by Christophe Coello (7/10)
This documentary is a fly-on-the-wall style exploration of the origins of the Occupy movement in the squats of Barcelona. (Only in this case it isn’t quite a true fly-on-the-wall, since the filmmaker was actually one of the squatters.)
It is a fascinating look at naive-but-principled people trying to do something they think is right and where it leads them. I don’t say naive because of the squatting, but naive in the belief that there can be such things as “work for all” or “free transportation for all.” Apparently these people are unaware of the 7 billion other human beings on the planet and the associated costs of, say, building streetcars for all 7 billion.
They are also naive in their belief that humans are free from compromise. Everyone must compromise with the world. Moreover, politics is compromise. So it is particularly painful to see these people call out those who have actually succeeded in getting squatters’ rights recognized as somehow counter-revolutionary (I am paraphrasing) or to see them reject the offers extended them of politicians who are actually interested in their cause. But I digress.
The movie is fascinating, if incomplete. The biggest problem with it – aside from its obvious, inherent bias – is that the sound is mixed pretty terribly. This might actually be deliberate (to make the thing more visceral) but regardless it makes sitting through some of the louder scenes almost impossible, at least in a theatre (I was at the North American premiere!) where one doesn’t have a remote. Anyway, regardless of your political stripe, the film is certainly interesting and more than a little provocative, so it is worth checking out if you can actually find it on somewhere.
41. Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig (7/10)
This is an entertaining comedy that manages to combine some elements of the “awkward” style of British comedy currently in vogue with some gross-out stuff that I suspect most of us would have never expected in a film called Bridesmaids. Unfortunately the grossest, and probably funniest, moment of the film had been spoiled for me by the endless media discussions about it after the film was released theatrically.
It’s pretty paint-by-numbers – we know what is going to happen with Wiig’s character pretty much from the get-go, but the movie is funny enough – and unconventional enough given that it is a comedy centred around women – that you really don’t care that it’s so obvious in its dramatic arc.
42. The Raid: Redemption, directed by Gareth Huw Evans (7/10)
The plot is nothing – we’ve seen it in a million movies, basically a spin on Rio Bravo, with a twist we can see coming – but the film is pretty ridiculous: outstanding choreography – and only a little bit in terms of unnecessary camera effects – some really great camera angles, and a pace that rarely lets you realize you are watching a 90+ minute film. I think the claim that this is the best action movie of the last decade is more than a little silly, but as these things go it’s definitely not bad.
43. Battle for Brooklyn, directed by Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley (7/10)
44. Buck, directed by Cindy Meehl (7/10)
We’re inundated with stuff like this now. I feel like this guy should have his own TV show given that there are dog and cat whisperers and the like on TV. Normally I don’t find this type of program interesting, but this guy has had an interesting life.
Buck has had one hell of a life and his folksy wisdom is kind of inspiring (never thought I’d say that) and you can see how his awful childhood influenced his attitude towards people and horses.
This is the kind of movie that has a big impact on you despite its minor subject matter. I feel like we could all use to a learn a little bit from people like this.
45. Breathing, directed by Karl Markovics (7/10)
This is one of innumerable deliberately-paced character studies in which not all that much happens in terms of plot. This one tells a relatively unique story, that of an orphaned child who has spent years in juvenile, now on a work release program.
It is, as you would expect, mostly understated and slow-moving. But, unlike many of these movies, it’s not oblique and it’s pretty clear about the motivations of the main character which, for me, elevates it over many other films of its ilk.
46. The Inner Life of Glenn Gould , directed by Michele Hozer, Peter Raymont
This is an affecting and in-depth look at Gould that revealed some things I didn’t know. Interesting for anyone who has enjoyed his playing.
47. The Frozen Planet [TV] (7/10)
This is yet another pretty good Attenborough nature documentary. However, there is a strong sense of deja vu. I feel like I’ve seen these scenes before. I probably haven’t but you can always watch so many documentaries. But it’s pretty.
My favourite part was the last episode, actually, which was more interesting and unusual for one of these documentaries, given that it focuses on humans. I learned something!
48. The Ides of March, directed by George Clooney (6/10)
This appears to be Clooney’s attempt to show how a truly “good” candidate would fair in the US primaries. (Why are these films always about primaries? Oh, right, because the US has a bizarre system.) Read the full review.
49. The Awakening, directed by Nick Murphy (6/10)
This is an effective, moody mystery/horror film that has two major flaws that make me like it a lot less than I want to.
The first is the ‘ghost hunter / skeptic proven wrong’ trope, which is so annoying. I guess I get why this has become a thing – it’s useful to have an audience surrogate that doesn’t believe in ghosts. But these films – in which supposedly intelligent people are brought to the edge of sanity (or beyond) by ghosts – are a bit of an insult. I would prefer a story that doesn’t involve the (implicit) moral “belief is greater than science.” (Especially given the time we’re living through right now, where so many people are publicly asserting that their subjective beliefs are more real than objective reality.)
The other issue is the ending: we have only a few clues to possibly guess it and there’s too much to suggest the truth of the original story we are fed for the ending to be a convincing twist.
50. Cafe de flore, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (6/10)
Without the mysticism I’d like it more. Read the review of Cafe de flore.
51. The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius (6/10)
52. Love, directed by William Eubank (6/10)
This is like a low-budget, more human-centric 21st century 2001. It’s more concerned with ideas than plot and with visual experiences rather than clarity. I agree with others that it probably warrants multiple viewings.
However, after one viewing, SPOILERS!
I get it, at least I think I do. But there are too many echoes of 2001 for me despite the dissimilar narrative ideas at play. The symbolism is too similar and some of the underlying ideas are also too similar – though this is a much happier film.
I appreciate films like this a lot of the time – and maybe I’d appreciate this one more on second viewing – but it’s just a little too vague for me, at the same time, as I noted already, it’s just too damn similar to 2001:
- there is a moment in the past when people find a strange object,
- a man slowly loses his mind and eventually finds himself in a conventional room somewhere in space,
Basically I wanted to like this more than I do.
However, it’s still more creative than a lot of movies made with many multitudes more money.
53. Hanna, directed by Joe Wright (6/10)
I think like there is something here that merits attention; it’s not just the cast, though the cast as way better than it should be for a movie like this. I’m not really sure what it is exactly; it may have something to do with the script which is definitely significantly better than your average action / spy movie.
But there are a couple of really annoying things about this movie that won’t let me think more about whatever the positives might be: specifically the soundtrack, which is intrusive and ridiculous, and a few odd directorial decisions including a bizarre slow-motion fight scene, which feels out of tone with the whole rest of the movie and its pounding soundtrack. I feel like some scenes in this movie could have been genuinely tense, only the soundtrack was so damn loud and so obtrusive that I never got involved in the particular scene. It’s the soundtrack, more than anything else, that weakens this movie.
54. The Guard, directed by John Michael McDonagh (6/10)
This is an amusing fish out of water / buddy cop comedy with a strong sense of place and a pretty incredible cast.
It’s slight – it’s just a jokey comedy about a Black cop in Ireland and a local Irish cop – smarter than he looks, of course – who’s supposedly not used to taking things seriously. But it mostly works as that. It briefly appears to get too serious for its own good and wisely avoids that.
The real issue is the very last moments, where the filmmakers freaked out that we didn’t get what was happening and hammer it home because, I guess, we’re dumb.
55. Juan of the Dead, directed by Alejandro Brugues (6/10)
This is basically a Cuban remake of Shaun of the Dead with enough differences, and enough crasser humour, to at least make it unique. This isn’t like an American remake of a British film, where they merely iron out anything foreign. This is actually a pretty distinct little movie, with plenty of gore – though much of it is off screen because of the budget – plenty of laughs and some truly terrible CGI. The biggest problem is consistency of tone, as the film careens between really funny and not at all funny and sometimes too serious, way too often. Some of the jokes just didn’t work, though subtitles can hurt timing, and there were at least two too many montages. But it was extremely entertaining in fits and starts, and it certainly was the most fun I had at TIFF this year, even if it was far from the best film I watched.
56. Jeff, Who Lives at Home, directed by Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass (6/10)
At this point we have been absolutely inundated with these “indie” movies about adults who haven’t grown up. These child-men and child-women always manage to find new meaning and / or maturity in their lives through some miraculous event that happens to them in one special day / week / other period of time. (Though the shorter the better, I think.)
These movies are scored so similarly that the genre even has its own musical conventions now. You would not be surprised to learn that this film’s score follows those “quirky soundtrack” conventions. I know, it’s shocking.
Yes, there are moments of hilarity. Yes, there are moments of pathos, and the like. But this entire concept has been done before. Many times. And by this point it feels pretty contrived, if it didn’t feel contrived before. (And, well, it did. Because the idea of a pivotal moment of change in one’s life is a rather contrived idea, is it not? It makes narrative sense but doesn’t exactly reflect reality, only our imagination.)
There is nothing wrong with the acting, nothing wrong with the dialogue, but the story and characters are straight out arrested development cliches of this genre.
Yes, I laughed. Yes, I must admit at times I was slightly moved.
But wow did I ever feel like I had already seen this movie… about 8 times.
57. Behold the Lamb, directed by John McIlduff (6/10)
This is one of those movies where quirky characters – who don’t like each other – spend a day with each other and learn some kind of profound lessons about life. If this was an American movie it would come complete with a particularly quirky score.
I don’t like these people, but though I learn more about them and they grew on me I’m not sure why I care about their hijinks and their life lessons.
It’s well made and all that, but I am just bored of these types of films, even Irish spins on them.
58. Goon, directed by Michael Dowse (6/10)
This film is fairly unbelievable – a grown man who can’t skate learns how to skate? the obligatory romantic subplot – and, worse, it glorifies fighting in hockey, something I am personally wholly against. But, it gets a lot of things right:
- the players and fans really are like this: I know a few people who could fit easily into this film; Stiffler is believably dumb
- and it is really, really funny at times, especially if you know hockey players.
- It also features some of the funniest Turandot uses I have ever seen in any movie.
So I want to dislike it but I just can’t. Too entertaining.
Yeah, it’s pretty much the 21st century Slapshot. Not quite up to that level, but still worth watching.
59. Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski (6/10)
I feel like I’ve seen this before. Read the review of Carnage, which isn’t much of a review.
60. Grinders, directed by Matt Gallagher (6/10)
A TVO documentary with an interesting subject (playing poker for a living) and some pretty meh construction. It was a TVO documentary after all.
61. Hitler’s Children, directed by Chanoch Ze’evi (6/10)
What I said at the time: This is a fascinating, albeit brief, look at the lives of the grandchildren (and one child) of some of the most prominent Nazis.
The documentary is pretty skewed to one set of them – the filmmakers either omitted the descendants who deny the holocaust or failed to convince them to appear on camera – and so we only get those who feel the legacy of their ancestors. We are left with some interesting questions about whether they should or not, though they clearly do. But what might have been more powerful for us would have been an examination including those who have not been able to accept the reality of the holocaust. It is those people who are the people we should seek to understand, so we can try to learn something about denial and perhaps how to overcome it.
Still, the movie gives a compelling examination the irrational power of history; how people who by luck were born into families with infamous names can still feel guilty for something they had absolutely noting to deal with, and how – some – descendants of victims can feel that they did have something to do with it.
Note: I suspect I watched an edited version of this film because I watched it on TVO and TVO has (or still has) the unfortunate habit of trying to make films fit into time-slots instead of airing the entirely of them. I have seen at least 5 documentaries on TV that had 5-15 minutes of film missing because some programmer decided that another program couldn’t start later. So my review could have been affected by that but, if you look at that runtime, I probably watched the whole thing.
62. You’re Next, directed by Adam Wingard (5/10)
I can’t say I like it when a horror film reveals most of its secrets within its opening minutes. Read the full review (with spoilers).
63. Butter, directed by Jim Field Smith (5/10)
I laughed, but this movie is a mess. Read the review of Butter.
64. Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier (5/10)
Mental illness is very difficult to portray on screen, but when it’s done well – in this film or Take Shelter, a very similar film in many ways, or Rachel Getting Married – it can be quite affecting.
65. Captain America: the First Avenger, directed by Joe Johnston (5/10)
The origin story for this particular Avenger is an unbalanced mix of propaganda and satire of such propaganda, it’s hard to tell which it is. (It’s also hysterical that Marvel decided there were worse things than the Nazis…)
This film is entirely too rah rah rah – though sometimes it’s at least aware of that fact – and its version of WWII is so hard to recognize as the real one that it makes it pretty ridiculous. Also, Captain America isn’t really my type of super hero.
But it was reasonably entertaining, I guess, for what it is.
66. Another Earth, directed by Mike Cahill (5/10)
67. Blitz, directed by Elliot Lester (5/10)
So I know that this is based on a novel, and certainly the novelist didn’t set out to write a subversive Statham movie. But it seems at some point that the director decided to that. Read the rest of the review.
68. Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh (5/10)
The effects don’t translate well to the small screen so any of the scenes set on that really dark planet were difficult to watch. Aside from that, I had trouble caring too much about a god. It’s well made, of course.
69. Killer Elite, directed by Gary McKendry (5/10)
For the first two thirds of this film – not to be confused with Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite – it is actually a shockingly strong spy thriller with way-too-good-for-a-spy-action-movie acting from just about everybody, save Statham, of course, who plays his usual self.
Unfortunately things go way off off the rails when the movie isn’t content to leave loose ends unwrapped. So instead the movie has a second climax and then a third. I’m sure the problem is at least in part with the source material: there are too many plot twists and the things that are appealing – the humanness of just about everyone involved, the low-tech and imperfect killing methods – seem to disappear somewhat in the multiple climaxes.
It’s too bad as this really, really feels like a wasted opportunity for making something really compelling.
70. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (5/10), directed by Brad Bird
I haven’t seen the third and I have to say I feel like I missed a little something, but anyway.
The biggest problem with this movie is that every time they stumble upon a good set piece – using a song to time a prison escape, having a fight in the most futuristic parking garage ever – they take it way too far. They stretch believability, tear apart believability, and then light the pieces on fire afterwards.
Take out the film’s most absurd moments, and it actually is a pretty decent action film: there is a real emphasis on the humanness of the characters, something you don’t find in a lot of other action movies like this, and something that I think was missing from Mission Impossible 2 (if I remember correctly).
So it has its moments where you’re actually surprised about how solid it is (though that denouement is pretty brutal).
71. Becoming Chaz, directed by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato (5/10)
This is a TV-quality level documentary that feels more like an abbreviated reality TV show than it does a film. The other really serious problem is that Bono is listed as a producer. Want to guess whether or not he had final cut?
That aside, this does a reasonably decent job of giving us norms a sense of the feeling of absolute necessity of a sex “transition” for those who feel like they were born into the wrong body.
However, a much better film has been made about a non-celebrity transitioning. It’s called Southern Comfort and you should watch that instead.
72. Where do We Go Now?, directed by Nadine Labaki (5/10)
Ah the TIFF crowd pleaser.
This is a mildly funny movie (I laughed a few times, Monique is not sure if she even laughed) that had most of the audience roaring: very safe jokes mostly along the lines of ‘tehehe, Christianity and Islam are different but the same, tehehe.’ In that sense it is like the Lebanese version of Bon Cop, Bad Cop, only with songs.
That’s right: it’s a musical. Only it’s not. There are three (?) songs in the entire movie. Which leads me to it’s biggest problem (beyond the overly safe humour for the subject matter): the tone. There are long stretches where it is a comedy, there are moments when it is a not particularly funny musical, and there are stretches when it is very much a serious drama (at one point the director – yes, she cast herself – is screaming at all the men in her life for causing all this suffering).
I get that as men we are expected to take at least some reverse sexism as atonement for he 1000s of years of institutionalized sexism we have inflicted on women, but the idea that women want religious and ethnic conflict to stop but cannot stop it because of the hot-headed men is as simplistic as it gets. It adds nothing to any conversation about how to move forward from these seemingly intractable conflicts (and honestly, if every mother felt the way these mothers do, why would there be war in the world?).
This would be excusable if the film were funny, but despite the audience roaring and clapping throughout, I did not find it so.
73. Unknown, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (5/10)
This movie is utterly nonsensical until the twist. The twist itself is ridiculous, but this is actually the rare movie where the twist explains thing enough to rend most (I stress ‘most’) of the nonsense before it as actually somewhat plausible. The twist answers most of the “This doesn’t make any sense!!!” moments that occur before it. Most of them.
Basically the film suddenly goes all Jason Bourne on us, and the problem is that this curve ball doesn’t explain things like Neeson’s lack of muscle memory about his former career, or why a scientist – i.e. someone who is curious about life – would not be the least bit interested in investigating such a well-done impersonation.
74. Bellflower, directed by Evan Glodell (4/10)
I have heard this called hipstersploitation and I think that’s probably accurate. Read the review.
75. Cowboys and Indians, directed by Jon Favreau (4/10)
A missed opportunity. Read the review.
76. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows by Guy Ritchie (4/10)
The thing I liked most about the original was Downey’s Holmes, who finally felt like the real Holmes (even if the film around him was nothing like the stories). Read the rest of the review.
77. The Eagle, directed by Kevin Macdonald (4/10)
This movie tries really hard. Read the review.
78. The Big Year, directed by David Frankel (4/10)
This film had the potential of being a penetrating dark comedy about obsession, or a slapstick comedy driven by obsession, or even a drama. It is none of these things.
Rather it is a middle-of-the-road comedy with very few jokes – okay, very few jokes that work – and a ton of sentiment. That’s not to say it’s terrible: the characters are actually pretty well developed and, not only that, the results of the competition are a) believable and b) not subject to movie cliches.
But if you are going to make a dramedy, you should make a dramedy and not throw in so many obvious failed jokes. And I really do feel like, in the hands of different people, this could have been wickedly dark. Oh well.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot: what happened to Steve Martin’s face?!?
79. Ironclad, directed by Jonathan English (4/10)
I guess there’s really not much to complain about with regard to the acting: this is one incredible cast for run of the mill knight action film.
But the screenwriter(s), in addition to completely fudging the historical record, have apparently forgotten what century this film takes place during: we have talk about “relieving” an “officer” of command, we have talk about the divine right of kings, something that wasn’t even a concept for another 400 years, and all sorts of other modern nonsense that has no place in the 13th century, and of course it’s all in English! Doesn’t this take place in the 1210s? Aren’t all these people Normans? Oh who cares anyway.
And then, for some reason, I forgot I’d seen it, and watched it again in 2018. And I wrote the following:
This film is basically Seven Samurai in England. Then it turns into The Alamo at Rochester. (Oh, sorry. Spoiler alert, I guess.)
This is an extremely gory film, though much of that gore is CGI, as you might imagine, and so it looks terrible. If you played a drinking game involving lopped limbs, you’d be fairly drunk by the end of this movie. It’s worth thinking about why a movie that is supposedly about upholding the Magna Carta is so gory. I suppose there’s supposed to be some point about sometimes fighting for liberty or some such thing.
This is not a good movie. It’s full of cliches and historical inaccuracies. A quick trip to wikipedia reveals that, though the rough story is vaguely accurate, all the details are wrong. And begs the question, why is the true version never good enough for screenwriters? Why not try to tell the real story of forcing John to honour the Magna Carta instead of the Magnificent Seven version of the story?
We alerted to the lack of rigour pretty early, as the opening music sounds a little too much like the Call to Prayer. We were wondering, where do they think we are? And the Welsh setting of does a poor job of passing for southeast England.
The combination of the false version of history, the ridiculous gore, the “group of miscreants protecting everyone’s rights till the last,” the confused score and the bad setting all add up to not a very good movie. Also, the script has some real groaners.
Some stray thoughts about the film:
Does the King just travel around the country with trebuchets? Why does he have so much stuff for a siege of a castle he never expected to have to take? (It’s his castle!)
These are the faster builders I’ve ever seen. Everyone has a siege engine.
John isn’t just a bad guy, he’s absolutely awful. Why can’t they ever make him a person? (He becomes more of a person at the end, for some reason.)
Of course the Templar has to have some sex.
The women know how to fight!
What I want to know is, why is this keep still important once they have the castle courtyard? The people inside are not firing arrows out of it; the King’s forces have control of the supposedly vitally important road.
The ending is very cowboys and indians or, to use a slightly more recent reference, Saving Private Ryan.
80. The Other F Word, directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins (4/10)
The subject matter is interesting. There is certainly a movie to be made about the rash of “punk” musicians who are still playing music about defying authority who now live in large to gigantic homes, send their daughters to private schools, etc and yet still claim to have retained some kind of anti-authority stance.
But it is not this movie. This movie is a gigantic mess.
- The chapters don’t make any sense (the material appears to be distributed differently than the headings would suggest),
- there are lyrics on the screen,
- there are performances that come out of nowhere and don’t really fit the vibe of the movie
- and, on top of all that, there is the problem that the filmmakers never really decided if this movie was about the lead singer of Pennywise quitting his band to be a better father or whether it is about punk musicians having mid-life crises now that they are the establishment they rebelled against.
An absolute mess.
81. A Lonely Place to Die, directed by Julian Gilbey (4/10)
This movie starts off following the genre cliches of one genre and then veering wildly into another one, and as such it doesn’t work. Genre mashups are all well and good, but if you can’t execute basic things, they aren’t going to work.
- At one point a character tries to get a signal on his cell only to receive…a busy signal?
- In a chase, the people running on one bank of the river move shockingly slower – despite the fact they are shown running the entire time – than those on another.
Things like that don’t pass the smell test.
It thinks it’s a horror movie but then it turns into a kidnapping film. The kidnapping idea is actually pretty solid but the problem is, as I noted above, that the execution sucks. If they were going to throw the kidnapping at us, not only do they need to make the film sensical, but they also need to reveal it in the right way.
The problem is the reveals are more out of horror (or even comedy) than out of a well constructed kidnapping thriller.
So we get 1/3 lead up to a horror movie (or thriller) and two thirds messy multi-character kidnapping caper. A mess.
82. The Adjustment Bureau, directed by George Nolfi (4/10)
I guess there are some SPOILERS!
83. 30 Minutes or Less, directed by Reuben Fleischer (4/10)
At some level I feel like this is just a wannabe Pineapple Express, despite the lack of weed.
The movie is poorly made from a structural standpoint – there is, for example, no denouement, to go along with the very little-to-no character development.
But I laughed a fair amount in the second and third acts – not so much in the first, when I may have laughed once total – so that I at least didn’t mind the fact that I was watching a poorly made, badly plotted comedy with unbelievable characters in unbelievable situations. So yeah, I laughed. That makes up for a lot of things.
84. The Retreat, directed by Carl Tibbetts (4/10)
The problem with this film is the moral is essentially “never trust anyone, except when you should trust them” and we can’t work with that.
The acting is far better than the script deserves. The script spends it’s entire time trying to get us to buy one thing, and then another, and then another, while the truth is slightly different. And lots of movies do this, and do it well, but this one you know is trying to do it from the very first moment. This couple isn’t normal: they are far too scared of the injured mad – they don’t even help him! – and so you know there is something wrong before you should.
And the whole rest of it is just as silly.
85. Grave Encounters, directed by Colin Minahan, Stuart Ortiz (4/10)
86. The Roommate, directed by Christian E. Christiansen (3/10)
Billy Zane has gone from playing the heavy in one of the most financially successful movies of all time to featuring in shit like this…
So this movie has been made a bunch of times before. And I still don’t know why women are supposed to be scared of their roommates. Is it because they aren’t supposed to be moving out on their own until they have a fiance / husband? Probably. Why else does crap like this get made?
Beyond the terrible, paint-by-numbers plot and the pretty shitty acting on the part of the heavy, there is nothing really wrong with this. But I can’t tolerate these “re-imaginings” when the original idea was bad to begin with. And incidentally, I thought we were all supposed to be having a more adult conversation about mental illness these days?
The director’s name is the best part of this movie.
87. In Time, directed by Andrew Niccol (3/10)
This movie opens with terrible expository dialogue that explains the monumentally stupid premise. I felt like I was in the pitch meeting myself. I could imagine the joy on some douche-bag executive’s face as he or she thought how great this concept was. I mean, honestly, the first third or more of the film feels like an unfinished pitch, it’s that terrible.
Things pick up considerably when the film goes all Bonnie and Clyde on us and it actually becomes reasonably entertaining, despite the idiotic premise, and so I raised my rating one whole point, because I laughed at a couple of the jokes, and because I actually feel like Timberlake and Seyfried had good chemistry. (Also, they seem to have saved all the worst lines for Timberlake when he isn’t with Seyfried, like when he introduces himself a la Bond.)
A pretty horrible movie, saved slightly by at least a vaguely enjoyable final act.
88. Battle: Los Angeles, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (3/10)
Stray thoughts on Battle: Los Angeles:
- “We cannot lose Los Angeles!” Why can’t we? Is Los Angeles a strategic position or does it just make a good “high concept” pitch? Those mountains behind it wouldn’t be a better place?
- Does the Hubble telescope look into the Earth’s atmosphere? Of course it does.
- “23rd Sergeant?” “You heard what I said, Administrative Sergeant, all hand’s on deck!” “But, Perpendicular Sergeant, I’m retired!”
- What is more important: watching CNN or mobilizing?
- Beings that can fly across the galaxy undetected can’t fly in an atmosphere? Reasonable assumption. Oh, it was wrong? Wow, that’s surprising. Beings that flew to earth have “air support”! Crazy!
- Large helicopters aren’t sitting ducks.
- No matter what happens – no power, no cable – CNN stays on the air!
- Surviving aliens is nothing, these guys have to survive them with children.
- They can track our communications! That’s incredible! How can that be possible! I mean they only flew here from another galaxy.
- That’s some pretty great glass on that bus when it’s not supposed to be broken.
- Women can’t fight, unless they’re Michelle Rodriguez.
- A car falls on a guy! Best part of the movie!
- Eckhart’s evil, he’s a hero, he’s evil, he’s a leader…
- There’s always time for mutiny…
- Is it not suicide if everybody does it?
- Nobody gets electrocuted in a sewer with live wires, ever. That’s totally safe.
- And so on.
I think 3/10 is charitable.
89. Quarantine 2: Terminal, directed by John Pogue (3/10)
I thought I had seen the original but I was just getting it confused with some other “Stuck in a building, being chased by rabid humans” movies and, well, I’ve seen [Rec], so I basically have seen the original.
90. Conan the Barbarian, directed by Marcus Nispel (3/10)
There is really no reason to recommend this. It’s disjointed, the acting is pretty mediocre and even the gore is pretty tame. It doesn’t look good on the small-screen, moreover. The climax in particular is difficult to see, which seems to be a common problem for these new 3D films.
I feel like the original at least had some unique set-pieces (even though I haven’t seen that in forever).
91. Fast Five, directed by Justin Lin (2/10)
In the very first scene in this movie, most of the principals should have died. So, really, the movie shouldn’t exist.
Read the rest of the review.
92. Forces speciales, directed by Stephane Rybojad (2/10)
This film was brought to you by the Armed Forces of France.
93. Zombie Apocalypse, directed by Nick Lyon (2/10)
Finally a zombie film that recognizes that animals can be zombies too! Off the top of my head, the last one to do that was Return of the Living Dead. Oh wait, that was a comedy. This is serious. Zombie tigers attack!